Seven tricky CFB situational spots

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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We’re nearly at the halfway point of the college football regular season, but it still feels like so many teams have so many unanswered questions. The inconsistency from game to game has been staggering and has really made the sport difficult to bet for a lot of people.

Even though just about every team is going through conference play, there are still a lot of situational spots to consider in Week 7. Remember that these are never sole justifications for a pick but something to factor into the handicapping process. Given that we’ve seen a lot of “good game, bad game” patterns from teams, the spots may have had something to do with that in the past and will continue to in the present and future.

Let’s check out some games that look to be tricky spots for Week 7.

Navy at Memphis (-10.5, 55)

Based on the line movement we’ve seen in the market thus far, those who mold and shape the lines are not as concerned as I am about Memphis drawing the Navy triple option on a short week. Covering a double-digit spread against a service academy is tough enough with the limited number of possessions in these slow-paced games, but doing so with less time to prepare for this Thursday night game against the run-heavy scheme seems even harder.

Navy has looked a lot better since the embarrassing effort against Air Force in Week 2. The Middies have covered three straight games, all as underdogs, against Houston, UCF and SMU. Navy even beat UCF outright, as the Knights have really gone backward under Gus Malzahn.

Memphis obviously sees Navy every season, so the scheme isn’t brand new for the Tigers, but Navy has covered five of the last six head-to-head meetings. Memphis once again has a potent offense, but the limited number of plays and drives has been a problem in recent seasons.

Bettors don’t think it will be this time, but now that we’re up into double digits, I’d have to look at the Navy side.

No. 24 San Diego State (-9, 41) at San Jose State

We’ve seen quite a few Top 25 teams fall victim to upsets, and it wouldn’t be shocking if this is one of them. The buzz is that San Jose State QB Nick Starkel was just about ready to come back last week, but Brent Brennan and the decision-makers opted to keep him on the sideline. The Spartans may get him back for this matchup against the recently ranked San Diego State Aztecs.

San Diego State is 5-0 but has also played the 150th-ranked schedule in the country, per Jeff Sagarin. Keep in mind that there are only 130 FBS teams. A good number of college football handicappers like to fade a team immediately after getting ranked. Given that SDSU’s last two opponents have been FCS Towson and borderline FCS New Mexico, it would seem to make sense here in a few different ways.

The Aztecs managed just 248 yards and just 44 passing yards in their “signature” win over Utah, a 33-31 affair that went to triple overtime. San Diego State’s other noteworthy win over a Pac-12 opponent came against winless Arizona, which has played a tough schedule but also lost at home to Northern Arizona.

San Jose State has seen a lot of fan bases storming the field recently. Beating a Top 25 opponent, even one undeserving of its ranking, would trigger that Friday night. I do like the Spartans here, especially if Starkel comes back.

Army at Wisconsin (-14, 39.5)

It will forever be a head-scratcher as to why teams with a lot to lose schedule games against service academies in the middle of conference play. Wisconsin doesn’t have as much to lose as most seasons, as the Badgers look to be in the midst of a down year, but didn’t know that when it scheduled this game.

Facing a triple option is an inconvenience more than anything for a team like Wisconsin, which should be able to defend the scheme well enough to win comfortably. The cut blocking and the level of preparation that goes into facing a team like Army seems like the biggest concern. Focus would seem to be an issue as well, especially given that Wisconsin has already played three ranked teams and has big division games with Purdue and Iowa on deck.

Wisconsin may win and cover just by being bigger and stronger in the trenches, but this seems like a spot that could have more of an impact next week against Purdue, depending on the health of the Badgers’ defensive line after the game.

No. 19 BYU at Baylor (-6, 50)

While Army at Wisconsin is certainly a strange matchup for this week, this is the most interesting of the three FBS-vs.-FBS games outside of conference. After four straight Big 12 games, Baylor welcomes BYU to town. The Cougars are ranked, so there won’t be any lack of focus from the Bears, who can also secure bowl eligibility with a win.

BYU was the right side per the box score against Boise State but came up on the short end because of red-zone inefficiency and turnovers. Baylor was bet against by some sharp people in the markets and crushed West Virginia. Those are always intriguing games to follow from a market standpoint.

BYU doesn’t belong to a conference and will play Washington State and Virginia the next two weeks, so we’ll have these interesting spots again. The difference this week is that Baylor is very much in the hunt in the Big 12, while the other two are not in their conference races at this time.

Another wrinkle to this game is that BYU has not played outside Utah since Sept. 4 against Arizona in a neutral-site game in Las Vegas. The Cougars have played four home games and a road game in Logan against Utah State. It will be the first game at close to sea level for the Cougars. Whether that has an impact is anybody’s guess, but it is still interesting.

I like BYU from a matchup standpoint and because I still think it is the better team, but there are spot considerations here as well.

No. 21 Texas A&M (-9, 60.5) at Missouri

By the definition of a letdown spot, is there a bigger one than a road game against an inferior opponent after beating the No. 1 team in the country at home? Texas A&M faces that very prospect this week with a trip outside the SEC West to take on the Missouri Tigers. The Aggies survived a big Alabama comeback to kick a game-winning field goal at the horn and win a crazy 41-38 game against the Crimson Tide.

Some considered Texas A&M a College Football Playoff dark horse. The Aggies were clearly good enough to beat Alabama but also flawed enough to lose to Mississippi State the game before. Can you trust a team like that against a Missouri team that has been really disappointing?

This is a good example of how situational spots do get factored into the lines. Missouri just gave up 35 to North Texas and has been terrible on defense all season. Texas A&M is still under double digits, despite knocking off Alabama to get back into the Top 25.

From a situational standpoint, backing the Aggies looks to be extremely difficult. But they are clearly a better team than Missouri, and sometimes situational spots just aren’t enough of an equalizer. It would be the Aggies or nothing in this game to me.

TCU at No. 4 Oklahoma (-13, 65.5)

There was a lot of buzz on social media about the “fraudulent” Oklahoma Sooners when they trailed by 18 points at halftime against Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Not only did the Sooners come back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, they took the lead at 48-41 after going on a 28-3 run and wound up winning.

Such a dramatic and emotional rivalry game can definitely have carryover for both teams, but especially the winner. Oklahoma is now laying almost two touchdowns to TCU with Caleb Williams expected to be the starting quarterback. The freshman got his first extended action and his first big taste of the rivalry while becoming the savior for the Sooners after Spencer Rattler was sent to the bench.

TCU is a dangerous team to face in this spot. The game seems to have passed Gary Patterson by to a degree, but the Horned Frogs can score and the Oklahoma defense has been a problem area at times. Coming down from the high of the win to realize that you now have a new quarterback has to make for a tough week of practice.

Maybe Williams is the answer and maybe Oklahoma will start to look the part, but if this line gets to 14, you really have to consider TCU.

No. 20 Florida (-10.5, 59) at LSU 

The Tigers showed up in this report last week, and my biggest fears were realized. Kentucky was in a terrible spot against LSU off of a rare win over Florida and still ran all over the Tigers. Ed Orgeron has lost this LSU team. Each week becomes a situational spot for fading LSU until Orgeron gets his pink slip.

Maybe the players rally together and play with some pride for themselves, but there is no buy-in to what Orgeron is selling. Kentucky, a team outclassed in the recruiting rankings on an annual basis by LSU, ran for 7.3 yards per carry. The Tigers, meanwhile, ran for just 4.2 yards per pop and gave up four sacks. Remember that Orgeron’s bread-and-butter position is as an offensive line coach.

Death Valley may get going if LSU shows something in this game, but the student section and the fan base cannot be thrilled with how things are going, and a fast start from the Gators might put the crowd out of the game completely.

I like the Over but would consider laying it with Florida long before I’d consider betting LSU.

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